Schools in Germany

Update 13.10.2022

Which school is the right one?

Education in Germany is regulated at the federal state level, meaning each of the 16 federal states has its school system. Only the general compulsory education and the grading system are same throughout Germany. The school-leaving qualifications obtained in any individual federal state is recognised throughout Germany. Here you can find information about the school system in Germany as well as advice regarding issues like extra tutoring and bullying in schools.

What do I need to know?

Does my child have to go to school? (Compulsory education)

In Germany, all children are required to attend school from the age of six or seven. Every child who lives in Germany must go to school at this age and study for at least nine years.

This general rule also applies to refugee children and teens- if they are six years old or older, they often have to attend school soon after their arrival in Germany. The regulations regarding schooling vary from state to state. For more information, read the subchapter referring to the education system in your federal state below.

Parents who do not send their children to school will have to pay a hefty fine.

Which school should my child attend?

Initially, all children must attend an elementary school. Elementary school consists of 4 to 6 years of education, depending on the federal state where the child lives. After elementary school, students go to secondary school. The type of secondary school any child attends has a significant impact on his or her future life. The higher your child's grades, the more choices and opportunities he or she will have later in their future education and profession. "Abitur" is the highest school-leaving certificate - only with an Abitur can your child later enrol in a university. In some federal states, a student's scores and his/her teacher’s evaluation determine which secondary school he/she must attend. In many federal states, teachers can only make a recommendation, but in the end, the parents decide. That means you do not have to follow the teacher's advice. It can be difficult, however, to find a high school that accepts your child despite bad marks.

To learn about the relevant regulations in your place of residence, read the subchapter regarding the school system in your federal state.

How does the German grading and certificate system look like?

The German grading system has six marks: "1" is the best mark and "6" is the worst. Twice a year, students are evaluated and handed a school report card containing their marks in each subject. The midterm report card, usually issued at the end of January, serves as a means of evaluation for parents and children to assess the student's performances. The annual report card, often handed out before the summer holidays, determines whether your child can move on to the next grade or needs to repeat the same grade. In most elementary schools, no specific marks are mentioned on the report card during the first two years of education. There is only a brief evaluation of the child's performance from the teacher.

Important: Bad marks are no catastrophe. Teachers will be happy to provide you and your child with advice for better performance in school. You can learn more by checking the section “My child has difficulties at school. Any advice?”. And there are also plenty of counselling centres available. At JMD, you can find a local counselling centre to visit or seek help online; the staff there speak various languages.

You can also seek cost-free anonymous advice from the Parents' Hotline. You can tell the staff about your concerns and difficulties- they will listen and try to help you work out a solution. Furthermore, you can reach the Parents' Hotline daily between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. on the cost-free phone line 0800 777 18 77 in German and English. Or you can write an email to fraguns@elternhotline.de in German, English, Arabic, Farsi, French, Turkish, Kurdish, Bulgarian, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Spanish, Polish or Croatian. The staff will answer you within 24 hours.

Where do children who do not speak German yet study?

Children and teens who speak little or no German should initially attend special courses in which they learn the language and get familiarised with German culture. These classes are often called "Willkommensklassen", "Vorbereitungsklassen" or "Übergangsklassen" (Ü-Klassen); and they prepare children to enter regular schools. In these preparatory classes, students are gradually evaluated according to their age, performance and language skills.

Are there any alternatives to public schools?

Yes, there are also private schools in Germany. These schools are not established by the state - they might be run by private companies, the church or associations. Private schools often have a distinctive concept and teaching method, and they -almost always- demand tuition fees. If you are considering a private school for your child, contact them first to learn more about the conditions, costs and requirements. You can find a comprehensive list of all the schools in your city here.

My child has special needs. What should I do?

In many schools, children with special needs or disabilities can learn together with other children. But there are also specialised schools exclusively for children with special educational needs. If your child goes to kindergarten, you can seek advice from the staff there about your options for school. You can also seek support from JMD- their staff speak different languages. Alternatively, you can reach out to Parent’s Hotline or Elternhotline and discuss the issue in hand with their staff in your language.

What can I do if my child is bullied?

When a child is insulted, teased, ridiculed, threatened, or bullied by another child or group of children over a long time, we talk about "Bullying". Many children experience bullying, especially at school. Anyone may become a victim of bullying - not because of something they did wrong, but simply because there are perpetrators out there who want to counter their own frustrations by victimising other children.

It is often not straightforward to find out whether your child is a victim of bullying. If your child suddenly behaves differently, does not like going to school, becomes sick often, skips school, has poor grades, show no interest in going to the sports club anymore, experience sleep problems, etc., there is a chance he or she is suffering from bullying. If that is the case, talk to your child empathetically and try to find out what the cause is. Generally speaking, you must regularly ask your child about school and their friends and listen carefully to what they reply. Also, keep in regular touch with your child's teachers, trainers, parents of friends, etc. - so you can learn more about your child's behaviour.

If your child is being bullied, speak to the teachers and school workers/ trainers immediately. They should work with you and your child to find a way to solve the problem. If there is physical violence or extortion, you can also contact the police. For help in your language, reach out to counselling centres such as the JMD or the Parents' Hotline.

What can I do if my child is bullied online?

Embarrassing/funny videos and images of children are often uploaded to social media (TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat, etc.) without their consent. Sometimes, even, a perpetrator may hack into a child's profile and post in their name. Cyberbullying is when someone is slandered, threatened or harassed online- and it is a criminal offence. If your child is a victim of cyberbullying, download and save the materials in question as proof, so you can later show it to the school staff and, if necessary, the parents of the perpetrators and find a way to solve the problem together. Also, inform the operator of the website so that the posts are deleted - it is your right to have the content in question deleted. Generally speaking, you must talk to your child about their online activities and discuss how they can protect their privacy. On klicksafe.de, you will find a lot of information about cyberbullying in German. The JMD or the Parents' Hotline can also help you in your language.

What can I do when my child has difficulties learning at school?

It is quite normal for children to have problems with one or more subjects at school. And tutoring ("Nachhilfe") can often help. A tutor is someone who can help your child after school with subjects in which he or she has difficulties. There are tutoring classes in which several children study together - an option which is a little less expensive than private lessons. But older students, former teachers or helpful neighbours can also function as tutors who often do not charge you with a hefty tuition fee. In some schools and Children and Youth Centres, one can also find "free homework help" in the afternoons. It is best to ask your child's teachers or other parents for tips and recommendations.

Your child can also find help with studying online:

  • At  stayschool.de, children from the 5th grade can seek free online help studying - volunteers help your child study through video chats. Their service is available in various languages.
  • At corona-school.de, your child can get find student tutors free of charge for 1st grade upwards. Here, students volunteer to younger students with their homework while schools are closed. The service is offered through video chat and in German.

Important

If you have difficulties with a teacher, contact the school administration. In case your problem is with the school management, contact the school office ("Schulamt“) in your district. Alternatively, the JMD or the Parents' Hotline can help you in your language.

In Saxony-Anhalt, after primary school, students have four options: Sekundarschule, Gesamtschule, Gemeinschaftsschule, and Gymnasium.

The School System

Primary School

The primary school takes 4 years to accomplish in Saxony-Anhalt.

After primary school, parents decide which school their child attends next. The school staff help in the process by sharing their recommendations with parents. There are four options:

  • Sekundarschule
  • Gesamtschule
  • Gemeinschaftsschule
  • Gymnasium
Sekundarschule

The Sekundarschule starts in the 5th grade and ends with the 9th or the 10th grade. The secondary school prepares your child for the job market from an early age. Here, your child can graduate with the following school-leaving certificates:

  • einfachen Hauptschulabschluss or qualifizierten Hauptschulabschluss (after the 9th grade)
  • einfachen Realschulabschluss or erweiterten Realschulabschluss (after the 10th grade)

In the 7th grade, your child should decide between a Hauptschulabschluss and Realschulabschluss. Any of these school-leaving certificates suffices to start vocational training. Students who have graduated with an erweiterten Realschulabschluss can also switch to a Gymnasium.

Gesamtschule

The Gesamtschule starts with the 5th grade and students can graduate after the 9th, 10th, or 13th grade. A Gesamtschule is a kind of mixture of Hauptschule, Realschule and Gymnasium. There are two types of Gesamtschule: kooperative Gesamtschule and integrative Gesamtschule.

In a kooperative Gesamtschule, there are three different performance levels:

  • the Hauptschule level
  • the Realschule level
  • and the Gymnasium level.

Your child can switch between these three levels, depending on their performance and notes. The integrative Gesamtschule does not have such levels, so students learn together regardless of the school-leaving certificate they are planning to obtain. But here, for each subject, there are two courses with different levels of difficulty: Your child may choose one of these two levels of difficulty depending on their performance in the subject.

In a Gesamtschule, students can graduate with an einfachen Hauptschulabschluss or qualifizierten Hauptschulabschluss after the 9th grade, einfachen Realschulabschluss or erweiterte Realschulabschluss after the 10th grade, and the Abitur after the 13th grade. With any of these three degrees, your child will have the opportunity to start vocational training. With an Abitur, your child can choose between vocational training and university education.

Gemeinschaftsschule

The Gemeinschaftschule starts with the 5th grade and may end with the 9th, 10th, 12th or 13th grade. In a Gemeinschaftschule, all students learn together for as long as possible, regardless of the school-leaving certificate that they are planning to obtain. This means that your child does not have to decide on a school-leaving certificate until the 8th grade.

In a Gemeinschaftschule, students can acquire einfachen Hauptschulabschluss or qualifizierten Hauptschulabschluss after the 9th grade, einfachen Realschulabschluss or erweiterte Realschulabschluss after the 10th grade or the Allgemeine Hochschulreife (Abitur) after the 12th or 13th grade. With any of these three degrees, your child will be able to start vocational training. With an Allgemeine Hochschulreife or Abitur, your child can choose between vocational training and university education.

Gymnasium

The Gymnasium starts in the 5th grade and ends with the Abitur after the 12th grade. In a Gymnasium, students have to learn more intensively and be very diligent. They learn at least two foreign languages during the Gymnasium years. Those who leave Gymnasium after the 9th or 10th grade, usually automatically obtain the Hauptschulabschluss or Realschulabschluss at least. With an Abitur, your child can choose between vocational training or university education.

How do I register my child at a school?

When should refugee children attend school?

Once you leave the initial reception facility, your child must start school.

You will receive a letter from the provincial school office ("Landesschulamt,") informing you of the address of the school responsible for your child. Children who do not speak German sufficiently yet should initially attend special German classes.

The staff at your accommodation facility will assist you in the registration process.

When and where can I enrol my child?

In due time, you will receive a letter from the provincial school office ("Landesschulamt"), in which you will be given all the information you need to register. The letter also contains the address of the primary school responsible for your child. This is in principle the closest primary school to where you live. During registration, your child will be examined by a doctor and his German language skills will also be checked.

The staff in your child's kindergarten can assist you in the process.

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